The Los Angeles Chargers are heading into perhaps their most important offseason in the past decade, with a clear, open window to chase a Super Bowl with cheap rookie contracts at key positions in Justin Herbert and Rashawn Slater.
Not only do the Chargers have a great opportunity in terms of winning window, they also rank positively among the league in draft capital and cap space available. According to Daniel Popper, the Chargers rank fifth in the league with $58.57 million in cap space in the 2022 offseason. They also have all of their own draft picks, plus several additional expected late-round compensatory picks in the 2022 NFL Draft.
Given these vast resources, it is obviously crucial to spend the free agency money and draft picks in the right way. Based on what we witnessed in the 2021 season from the Chargers as well as other NFL teams and the talent pool available in free agency in the draft, there appears to be one main position group to target in 2022 free agency.
The Los Angeles Chargers should focus their free agency spending on improving... the defensive line.
Why should defensive line be the primary focus of free agency for the Chargers? First, let's start by looking at some other teams that have invested more in the offensive line than the Chargers.
Many lessons can be learned from the teams that go farthest in the NFL playoffs. One specific lesson applicable here is that you can rarely invest too heavily in the defensive line.
Each of the last four teams in the NFL playoffs on championship Sunday - the Kansas City Chiefs, Cincinnati Bengals, San Francisco 49ers, and Los Angeles Rams - were Top-11 in the league in spending among their defensive line.
Is that just a chance coincidence? I would argue absolutely not. In fact, the defensive lines were critical for both teams that progressed to the Super Bowl.
Most interestingly, the Cincinnati Bengals were able to contain the Kansas City Chiefs and Patrick Mahomes by dropping eight men in coverage a season-high 35% of the time. That strategy worked because they had players along their defensive line that could still generate pressure without a blitz.
If the Bengals defensive effort was not enough to convince you, perhaps the San Francisco 49ers defense is. Despite having one of the worst secondaries in the NFL, the 49ers were able to make a deep playoff run on the back of their strong defensive line, holding the Dallas Cowboys, Green Bay Packers, and Los Angeles Rams to 17, 10, and 20 points, respectively.
The new king in the NFL is getting pressure while only rushing three or four players. Currently, the Los Angeles Chargers have absolutely no way of doing that without a superhuman effort from Joey Bosa or a peak game from Uchenna Nwosu.
Despite this, the Cincinnati Bengals and Tennessee Titans have shown that a defensive line can be drastically improved in one offseason with shrewd free agent investment. This is the path that the Los Angeles Chargers should take with improving their defense in 2022.
If all of this was not enough, look at the talent pool available in free agency. According to the Athletic's free agent rankings, there are 11 defensive linemen that make the list for Top 50 free agents, including Chandler Jones, Von Miller, Haason Reddick, Jadeveon Clowney, Akiem Hicks, and Sebastian Joseph-Day. Several of these players have pass-rush win rates near or above Joey Bosa (graph below). That same free agent list includes only 7 corners, all of which are outside of the Top 20 besides J.C. Jackson (who is likely to be tagged) and Carlton Davis.
The draft is the place to address corner if deemed necessary. Plenty of intriguing players should be available at corner in the 17th draft slot if the Chargers are interested in selecting one. Players that may be available include potentially Kaiir Elam, Trent McDuffie, Ahmad Gardner, and Andrew Booth Jr.
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In order to give Justin Herbert the best opportunity to go to a Super Bowl, the Los Angeles Chargers have to fix their defense this offseason. Step 1 is fixing the defensive line in free agency, and there are plenty of options available to do so.